Three of My Favorite Fight Films: A Review

04.08.06- By John Howard: Every fight fan knows that Raging Bull and the original Rocky were two of the greatest and most popular boxing movies of all time. I agree. Raging Bull won two Oscars and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and the part of Jake La Motta couldn't have been played by anyone else other than Robert De Niro. The decision to film in black and white added a 40's and 50's touch of authenticity to the film and also gave it a gritty look. The scene of blood dripping from the ring rope wouldn't have the same effect done in color. The direction by Martin Scorsese was both inspired and flawless. Need I say more?

Rocky, of course, was the Academy Award winner for best picture in 1976. Based on the 1975 fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, Sylvester Stalone gave a brilliant performance as a million-to-one shot in his heavyweight title fight against Apollo Creed. I saw this movie at the Majestic Ventura Theater. When Creed was dropped by Rocky in round one, people (adult people) actually stood up and cheered. I hadn't seen that happen since I was a kid back in the old Western film days when the good guys in the white hats ran the bad guys in the black hats out of Dodge.

With this article, I wanted to review three of my personal favorite fight films. After reviewing the two previous films above, I re-rented Ali, Diggstown, Rocky's II thru V, Fat City, On the Waterfront, Kid Galahad, The Great White Hope, The Boxer (former featherweight champ Barry McGuigan was the consultant for the terrific boxing scenes), and The Champ (original & sequel). I purposely left out Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man since they're both so current and need no review, especially from of all people, Me. All three I've reviewed below have a good story line, great acting, and I feel have something to offer even the most discriminating fight fan.

If you have a problem finding these at your local video store or library, look for these films on AMC Network, or rent from netflix. In no particular order, my three favorites are...

1. Champion
Based on the story "Champion" by Ring Lardner, Kirk Douglas stars as Midge Kelly in this 1949 classic. Along with his disabled brother Connie (Arthur Kennedy), the brothers take off west via freight trains and hitchhiking to claim 1/3 ownership in the diner they bought. Swindled out of their share of the diner, Midge takes up with trainer Tommy Haley (Paul Stewart), and starts his assent through the middleweight ranks. With a need to feed his ego (with among other things two gorgeous, sluttish blondes), and loyalty to no one, the unprincipled Midge steps on the toes of nearly everyone, including his family. A dramatic ending. Kirk Douglas was nominated best actor for his role. Produced by Stanley Kramer who also did "The Wild One."

2. Triumph of the Spirit
Filmed in 1989 and starring Willem Dafoe as Salamo Arouch, a Greek Jew, and former Olympic/Professional boxer. Along with his family, he's imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. After knocking out a guard, he's brought before the command and forced to fight against other prisoners in public exhibitions. The loser gets the gas chamber, the winner goes back to being enslaved among horrific conditions in a concentration camp. Powerful, but extremely depressing. I can't think of another film that captures man's inhumanity to man better than this film. Based on a true story. The fight scenes were choreographed by Teddy Atlas, who also has a cameo appearance.

3. Hard Times
OK, so this films not about boxing but street-fighting. Hey, after all, this is my article. Filmed in 1975, the movie stars Charles Bronson as "Chaney" a depression era street-fighter who drifts into town on a rail, hooks up with promoter/manager "Speed" (James Coburn), and fights his way up to the top of the street-fighting game. Bronson plays his typical silent type character and lets his fists do the talking. Strother Martin "Poe" plays a medical school dropout, and former morphine addict, who does a great job as Bronson's cut man and doctor.

Article posted on 04.08.2006

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